Aspen City Council heard a summary of months of public feedback regarding three proposed affordable housing projects during a work session Tuesday night.
Chris Everson, affordable housing project manager for the city of Aspen, told the council that over the course of nearly 50 outreach sessions, the city had met with about 800 people to gather public sentiment about the final build out of Burlingame, a new development where the lumberyard is located at the Aspen Airport Business Center, and additional units built at Water Place specifically for city staff.
“There have been lots and lots of ways that folks have been able to engage,” Everson told council. “I think it’s something that’s been unique about this process.”
Of the general public that completed surveys or attended public outreach events, 83 percent indicated they were interested in residing in affordable housing. There was an even split between those that indicated they were looking for one, two and three bedroom homes.
The project team also reached out to specific stakeholder demographics such as neighboring homeowners associations and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. Of the ACRA membership that responded to a survey, 50 percent of employers said they would be interested in owning employee housing in some form.
Of the three projects presented, the final phase of Burlingame is the closest to completion, having already gone through the approval process. The project team told the council that the overwhelming message from current Burlingame residents and other stakeholders is that the city is on the right track with the already-approved plans. Current residents were able to give tips of where improvements could be made from their own living situations, such as soundproofing and private patios.
“What we are hearing is a range that is a small sliver of that huge massive range of possibilities,” Everson said. “It’s about improvements, it’s about refinement. It’s not about a massive amount of change.”
Will Hentschel has been leading the outreach on Burlingame. He is a principal at 359 Design, a modular development company based in Denver. He told the council that the final phase of Burlingame can address neighbor concerns about construction and noise if it is built offsite.
Modular construction is also being suggested for the new units at Water Place, near Aspen’s water treatment facility and Aspen Valley Hospital. After going through construction for the new ambulance facility and with upcoming construction at the water facility, neighbors are wary of even more nearby construction. Hentschel said his firm can address these concerns.
“In systems-built housing not only is there an opportunity for cost savings, but we see our schedules shrink to a 20-30 percent savings in time versus traditional,” Hentschel said. “In utilizing systems-built housing, in terms of bringing it to the site it’s a poignant event, meaning it’s a period of weeks.”
Seventy nine percent of city employees who took a survey about Water Place said they would be interested in living in the new development. The project team told council that they will be programming a diversity of unit types to fit the different family sizes of city employees. The city is also considering partnering with the school system and the hospital to allow them to buy units that are reserved just for their staff as well.
The lumberyard site is the least in focus of the three projects. Though the city has owned the land since 2007, this summer has been the first concentrated public outreach regarding development of the parcel, just behind the Mountain Rescue Aspen headquarters east of the Aspen Airport Business Center on Highway 82.
Jason Jaynes, a principal at DHM Design, presented the feedback to council. He said the team took a unique approach because the project is so new. Instead of first drawing renderings of the type of building that could go on the parcel, they backed it up to a wide range of questions posed to neighbors and the public.
“It was information gathering so we started by asking a lot of open ended questions,” Jaynes said.
But he said over the course of outreach during the summer certain themes started to emerge.
“Overwhelmingly we heard from the public that, yes, this is an appropriate site for affordable housing,” Jaynes said.
Everson told the council that the city has been thinking vaguely about using the place for smaller units for rentals or families that are downsizing, but public feedback has pointed to a desire to a more diverse mix than that, including larger units and ownership opportunities.
The development community has expressed concern about losing the business that occupies the property currently, Builders FirstSource. Representatives of the business told council that their customers are almost exclusively the area’s tradesmen that are building new homes, not local homeowners who are working on remodel or smaller scale projects.
Jaynes showed a slide of a poster that has been presented at public open houses, with an array of dots placed by community members showing their thoughts on whether the lumberyard should stay on the property in some form.
Councilmember Ann Mullins requested further research into what part of the lumberyard operation is most valuable to the community, or could not be moved elsewhere.
“It needs a lot more study than dots,” Mullins said.
Council gave approval for the project team to concurrently develop plans for three alternative uses for the parcel. One scenario would just be affordable housing, one would incorporate mixed-use spaces that could contain retail or restaurants, and one would include the Builders FirstSource store on a smaller footprint.
The city heard concerns about traffic, parking and new commercial spaces competing with the existing businesses in the AABC. Everson said the team is taking those comments to heart and is aiming to find ways to improve the overall neighborhood.
“It is incumbent on us to work together with more stakeholder groups, more individuals, folks who are invested in the area out there, to try to work together to make things better, not worse,” he said.
Councilmembers commended the team for their extensive public outreach and presentation and gave direction to move forward as planned on all three projects. Mullins and Councilmember Ward Hauenstein stressed making environmentally sustainable choices as much as possible in the building and utility aspects of the projects. Councilmember Rachel Richards expressed hesitancy to partner with area businesses to own and manage specific units, because the true costs of building the units are higher than many businesses can afford. Mayor Torre and Councilmember Skippy Mesirow encouraged the team to continue reaching out to a broader scope of stakeholders, including ones that they know will not be in support of the projects.
The project team will be back in front of council before the end of the year with more refined conceptual programming, as well as some budget numbers to review.
“The good news is that this isn’t a one-step process,” Everson said.